You don’t “find the time.”
You take it by force.
When I told my friend I had been writing and had nearly completed a book manuscript, her response was familiar: “where do you find the time?!?!”
She knew I was a business owner, a father, a husband, and a few other minor roles.
“I don’t find the time. I take it by force.”
I was being a little bit funny, but I was also being honest. Finding the time to do my creative work does take an element of force.
It’s too easy for me to spend the day in mindless doomscrolling mode or ticking off meaningless tasks to chase the elusive feeling of being “productive.”
Our art withers because these things consume our time, and it’s easier for us to blame lack of time rather than face the discomforting reality that we’re afraid to step forward and use our creative voice.
Why we struggle to find time for our creativity
In the past, I would look back and see that weeks had passed since I wrote, made music, drew, or did anything to give myself creative fulfillment.
Looking back like that felt like looking back over an arid desert. Maybe I made progress on some other stuff (yay, me), but I also felt a serious lack of fulfillment.
Time would “get away from me.”
This time slippage surely ain’t a new problem, and the Stoic philosopher Seneca said as much:
when [time] is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity, we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it.
Time races by before we even notice it happened. I’m guessing you have at least some familiarity with this.
It’s not just a lack of time, though. That would be bad enough. Unfortunately, it’s also how the nature of our world seems to push creative work to the back of the line.
So, it’s not just a personal issue but also a societal struggle.
As author Neil Gaiman reflects, “the world always seems bent on trying to shut out the creative impulse.”
There’s always something more important than creative work, and there always will be.
Unless we push back.
Prioritizing creative work – taking it back by force
When I told my friend I took time back by force, I also explained how I did it.
And I didn’t do it all at once, sweeping my calendar clear of every other obligation so that I could pursue my creative work.
I explained that I wrote much of my book in 15-minute increments. Even when my kids were young and my fledgling business demanded my full attention, I felt fine taking 15-minute pockets of time to do something the gods demanded of me: creativity.
In “4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals” (essential reading, btw – it’ll change your view on the substance of time), Oliver Burkeman describes this approach as “incrementalism.” Instead of finding vast chunks of luxurious time to create, we stake out small pockets and do it consistently.
Just like we do with things like showering, they become relatively non-negotiable.
I also noticed that as I consistently showed up to these 15-minute blocks, more and more time became available. Making an incremental commitment made room for more and more time.
And even when I couldn’t get more than 15 minutes daily, those 15-minute chunks added up. I wrote at least one book that way. Mostly.
A few more actionable ways to take back your time
- See how you’re using time. Take a look at how you’re spending your time now. Go to Screen Time or the equivalent and see where your time is going. You might be unpleasantly surprised, but that’s OK. Now you know what you’re up against.
- Honor your creativity. This may be the hardest one, but it’s the essential one. If you undervalue your creative worth, none of these things will work. Your creative voice is critical. Show up for it. Treat your creative time as sacred.
- Stake out the time. Schedule your time for creativity, whether in 15-minute chunks or 2-hour blocks. Treat it as sacred and keep it like a meeting with a boss or client.
- Set specific goals. If the goal is nebulous, it’s hard to want to make time for it. Set concrete creative goals, like “finish a story by November” or whatever, so that when you create, you know where you’re headed. The vision will take you far.
- Kill distractions. Like everyone, I’m a phone zombie, much more than I care to admit. I help myself by severely limiting the notifications I get, and I am a massive user of the Forest app to make it hard to distract myself (I don’t want to kill the cute little trees).
So what now?
It’s simple. Take that first bit of time by force. I know that 15 minutes doesn’t sound like a ton, but the exercise is about staking out that first bit of time and then expanding.
Do what you have to do to stay connected with your creative voice – and while it might seem selfish at first, it’s not. For example, I can say that I show up better as a father, husband, and colleague when I have the time I need to create.
Try some of the suggestions above, and let me know how it works for you.